The proposed Rs 15,000 crore (Rs 150 billion) Vedanta University Project in Orissa suffered a setback with the Orissa high court on Tuesday holding as illegal the state government's land acquisition procedures for the institution overlooking Bay of Bengal.
A Division Bench comprising Chief Justice V Gopalgowda and Justice B P Das while quashing the government's land acquisition notification on 17 counts also directed Vedanta company to return to the original owners the land awarded to them.
At least two PILs and six individual petitions were filed in the high court since 2007 challenging the state government's notification on the land acquisition procedures.
The petitions had said that Land Acquisition Company Rules, 1963 had not been properly followed.
The proposed multi-disciplinary university project would have caused extreme debilitating impact on the ecosystem as well as the local bio-diversity, the petitioners had contended.
The Orissa government said it would 'examine' the judgement.
"We have not yet received a copy of the judgement. We will examine what needs to be done," Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik told reporters after the court pronounced its judgement.
Congress leader Umaballav Rath, who filed the first PIL in the HC challenging the varsity project, described the judgement as the "victory of Lord Jagannath."
The HC judgement had saved about 500 acres of temple land from being given away for setting up the Vedanta University, he said.
Former law minister and BJP leader B B Harichandan said, "It is not only a setback to Vedanta, but also a blow to the state government that flouted all legal norms to promote the private university."
The petitioners also contended that the status of the company was also questioned on the ground that it was not properly formed as per the Companies Act.
Several sections under Land Acquisition Act 1894 along with Land Acquisition (Amendment) Act, 1984 and Land Acquisition (Company) Rules 1963 and Companies Act 1956 were discussed during the combined adjudications of the petitions.
The high court framed 17 issues and thereafter proceeded discussing each of these issues and held that land acquisition procedure for Vedanta were illegal in all these 17 counts.
Accordingly, the high court quashed the land acquisition notifications and also the award proceedings in favour of the company and directed them to return the land to the original owners.
The petitioners had pointed out that the proposed university project site, which was to come up near Puri about 60 km from state capital Bhubaneswar, was close to Balukhand Konark Black Buck Sanctuary and a river.
They also objected to inclusion of a large chunk of land belonging to Lord Jagannath temple in the proposed site. Sterlite Foundation, a private limited company which subsequently changed its name to Vedanta Foundation in 2004, entered into an MoU with Orissa government on July 19, 2006 to set up a university near Puri.